Saturday, July 30, 2016

Black Lives Matter; Kiwi Lives Matter.

In recent times we have seen a lot of police brutality on a global scale and especially in the US, and then last week we saw similar crimes in New Zealand with two separate incidents within a few days of men being shot by police – one, who was unarmed, died, and the other is in a critical condition.
There seems to be a culture developing among US police that this is a war and that the public are the enemy, especially if you are black and poor. This trend has been continuing for some time now and is steadily getting worse. We have seen many examples of police shooting and killing unarmed black people for no apparent reason and yet we have yet to see a police officer brought to justice. This year alone police in the US have shot 600 people. It is obvious from the actions of the police that they know they have complete impunity.
As someone who has been on the front line of pickets and protests I have seen this culture developing in NZ. While a lot of police are reasonable people I have witnessed an increase in the amount of thug-like behaviour by police in recent times and a reluctance by the authorities to address or even acknowledge it. In the US this has given rise to the 'black lives matter' movement which is becoming increasingly popular and is spreading to be a popular movement of the people with the involvement of many people of different ethnicities.
In recent times we have seen a militarization of the police with the use of military style weapons and military type vehicles being deployed at peaceful protests. I have read recently about US police doing training in Israel in the horrific and illegal methods used by the Israeli military to oppress, torture and murder Palestinians including women and children. It shows an attitude in policing that “treats minorities as enemies that must be pacified rather than citizens to be served” as Aljazeera America put it in a 2014 article about the Israel connection. One must wonder what is behind all this.
In capitalist society the police are the main barrier between wealth and poverty. The privileged members of society, the 'one percent', could not exist in the form they do with vast inequality and extreme poverty if there was not this barrier to protect the property rights of the rich. The poor would simply take back what is rightfully theirs and that would be the end of it.
We see in the US the criminalisation of the poor by the use of petty crimes to convict and imprison people, especially black people, and this is then being turned into an industry that is very profitable for large companies like Serco, which has recently taken over some of our prisons here in New Zealand. 
The US is the most incarcerated country in the world. In spite of having a relatively small population, it has more people locked up than any other nation. This is no accident – it serves as a reminder to anyone who is considering civil disobedience or crime, in the same way that unemployment serves to remind workers of the consequences of not working hard enough or not being obedient subjects of their bosses and the ruling elite. This US trend is slowly creeping in here at the hands of right wing governments and their cronies and business owners.
In NZ in the last three to four decades we have seen an increase in the use of petty crime to collect large sums of money from poor people and to criminalise them and eventually incarcerate them. Often these people who end up in prison, apart from being disproportionately from the poor and working class, are members of society that are less docile, more rebellious and less submissive than the average, and by removing them from society it makes us more docile members a lot easier to control.
The origins of policing in the US go back to early slave patrols and Native American police to keep the indigenous people in their place. They were basically necessary to keep an immoral practice of slavery operating without rebellion and were used to capture escaped slaves and punish them. In the south these patrols operated with a similar impunity that police officers seem to today.
In NZ we have a history of the police recruiting 'special oficers' from rural areas of the landed classes and using them as strike breakers to put down workers strikes, as in the case of Massey’s Cossacks during the great strike of 1913.
One of the main excuses for having a police force in the first place is to "protect us" but I would say that to most poor black Americans the biggest danger would be the police themselves.
You may think that I am a bit of a Utopian fool but in my experience most of my encounters with the police have been very negative ones, usually costing me money and in the worst cases being physically attacked by them. I often wonder if we really need them at all. I think in my case I would have fared a lot better without them.
I think it is time we seriously looked at the role of the police, where they come from, who they are and what their purpose is. Do we need police to cruise around in vehicles handing out tickets intimidating people and generally causing trouble and misery or would communities be better off policing themselves? What if police only came out when a member of the public requested them to. It seems at the moment that is the only time they don't come out. Are the police here to protect us or do we, as in the case of the Black Panthers, need to have patrols to protect us from the police and other racist groups? Here is an example of a positive alternative.
I would like get back to the recent shootings of two New Zealanders by police. This is a very worrying development, although not entirely without precedent (there have been similar killings in the past). If there is not a full inquiry to this, and if those responsible are found guilty and not punished, then I think it is a very bad omen for NZ society and I would urge all people who care about freedom and justice to get out on the streets and tell the government that this is not good enough and we will not tolerate this kind of behaviour by police.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Do not Pass Go- let’s play a game of Auckland Monopoly

Last weekend, we had our first game of Monopoly with the kids in the Carolan household. It was Oisin’s birthday present, and pretty soon both him and his sister Aoibheann were buying up the streets of the old London version, from his cheap 100 pounds fixer upper of the Angel, Islington, to her well appointed exclusive 400 pounds loft in Mayfair.

The kids asked what all the green houses and red hotels were for.
“Collect all the streets the same colour, and then you can build houses on them to jack the rent up by hundreds of dollars” said Heather.

“But that’s not fair, Mum”, said Ois- “houses are for living in. What if we can’t afford it?” Ahhh, that’s my socialist boy! And in a nutshell, that’s why the original Landlord’s Game was invented by socialist Elizabeth Magie. The world is not fair, and Auckland has turned into one big board game of Monopoly, one where everyone does not start equally with fifteen hundred pounds, and the Bank is rigged.

The kids are angry- so here’s my proposal.

There are 33,000 empty rental properties on the board at the moment in this city alone. Organising 33,000 seperate protests or occupations is a challenge that even General Strike could not command. Instead, let’s play a game of Auckland Monopoly.

On the one Glorious Day, we carry out four colour coded occupations of four empty properties in Auckland City.

Team Brown is for the low income streets.

Here we will organise an occupation of an empty state house, raising the demand to stop the sell offs, and to build 10,000 new State Houses and Council Houses every year.

Team Orange is for the low paid workers trapped in the rental sector, who have few tenant rights and can be evicted by landlords upping the rent by $100 or more a week. Here we will occupy to fight for Rent Controls, Tenant Rights and a WOF for healthy, warm homes.
Team Red is for those workers who dream to one day own a family house of their own- bit of a garden, Kiwi dream etc. This action will be about what’s affordable and what’s not- even if a worker was paid a living wage of $20 an hour- how many years would it take them to buy a $600,000 house?
The last team, Team Green, would identify the elite 1%, and capitalist speculation, as the enemy, whether foreign OR domestic.

It would target a property valued in the millions of dollars, one which could house dozens of people, or one that lies empty whilst our homeless freeze in garages, in cars and on the streets. This action would demand that empty properties faced stiff Empty House taxes and fines- a punitive Rich Tax that could send some of these speculators straight to Jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.

Four actions, co ordinated on one day, by a united front of Auckland’s Unions, Community groups and progressive groups. A strong visual theme using the Monopoly iconography, with top hats, monocles, colours and props. A big huge boot outside John Key’s residence, for one.

It’s time to take to the streets, to demand
(1) the building of ten thousand new state houses a year
(2) Rent Control and increased Tenants Rights
(3) Healthy and Warm homes WOF
(4) Affordable homes linked to workers real wages.
(5) A Rich Tax on speculators and empty houses.

My union, Unite, voted to take action on Housing at our Conference this year. I believe that only unions, with mass working class membership reaching into thew communities affected, have the social weight and the organisational capacity to mobilise thousands of people on this issue so that we can win these demands for real. Who would like to see a Game of Auckland Monopoly kick off a of Housing Rebellion on the streets of Auckland involving thousands as Spring heats up into Summer?

Advance to Go!